The book of Hebrews opens with a statement of the scope of God’s work through the ages. “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets…” (Heb. 1:1). The author introduces Christ as God’s special means of speaking to the people of “these last days,” that is, the people of that final age, that present time. The Apostles thought of their age as “the last days” because during it they saw Christ, the fulfillment of the words of the ancient Prophets. Here was the first visible evidence of God’s plan taking shape. Here was proof positive that God’s kingdom would come and His will be done. The time of prophecy had ended, the time for fulfillment had begun.
The author also recognizes the many ways in which God had delivered His message to the Israelite fathers–“at various times and in various ways.” Some saw angels, others had visions. Some received their messages through direct revelation. But now, in “these last days,” says the author, God has surpassed all His former means of communicating with His children by sending His own Son, “whom he has appointed heir of all things.” Christ is indeed “heir of all things,” not that all things are yet within His power but He has them by promise. The entire earth is destined to come under His eternal authority and domain. He is the Lord who shall one day be King of the whole earth (Zech. 14:9). He is the “heir” of the great promised inheritance, who “ He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8).
The next phrase raises a question about Christ the Son: “by whom also he made the worlds.” How could Jesus Christ, being raised up at the end of the prophetic period, be said to have “made the worlds”?
The original Greek word translated “worlds” in this text is aionas, which usually means “age,” or in its plural form “ages.” According to the Lexicon, it may refer to a very long time. It may also be used of a distinct segment of time, as a present age, or as time future, the age to come. It is used in Rom. 12:2 of the present age: “Be not conformed to this world.” It is used in Luke 20:35 of the Messianic age: “But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world,” that age to come. It is used again in Eph. 2:7, where it is translated “ages”: “That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” There is no instance where the word was used to refer to the physical earth or the literal creation.
With these definitions in mind, we can read the passage with understanding: “By whom also he made the worlds”–not the physical creation but the “world to come whereof we speak” (Heb. 2:5), the coming age and all that pertains to it, the time when Christ shall receive that to which He is heir.
A better translation of Hebrews 1:2 might read, “whom he (God) has appointed heir of all things pertaining to the earth, and unto whom he has entrusted the ages to come.”
The next verse describes more of Christ’s mission and glory: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (v. 3).
What are we to learn from the fact that Christ is “the express image” of God’s “person”? Certainly not that God is a spirit, an ethereal being, but that He is substance, a “person,” with “image.” The word “express image” is defined as “impress, reproduction, representation; characteristic trait or manner, outward appearance.” The word translated “person” means “substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality.” The phrase might read: Christ bears the outward impress of God’s substantial nature or actual being. The author is stressing the fact that God is a real being, not a spirit, as was commonly believed.
The author may also have been arguing for the reality of Christ and the reality of God against those who taught that Christ was only a spirit, and that God was likewise spirit rather than substance. He may also have been saying in effect that Christ obtained the effulgent radiance and the real physical being of His Father. The Father was just as real as the Son whom they had known.
God being the Supreme Ruler of the universes, we cannot profess too much knowledge of His physical likeness or appearance.
We may safely say that God is a real being of substance, and that Christ was likewise real, being a representation of His Father. But we dare not venture too far in interpreting the author’s words lest we find ourselves drawing unlikely conclusions in matters that are too great for us and which are not revealed.
The author goes on to extol Christ even more: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and… upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
How did Christ “by himself [purge] our sins“? This does indeed sound like Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary to take away the sins of mankind. But did the author of Hebrews believe this? No, for he says later, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin, You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (Heb. 10:8).
The words “by himself” and “our” are omitted in five of the best manuscripts. Without these words, the phrase reads, “when he had purged sins,” or a better rendering, “after he had provided purification for sin.” This Christ did. He purified Himself, just as we must purify ourselves (1 John 3:3). He provided the perfect example of how the work can be accomplished. And when this process of purification was complete, when His character had been polished to perfection, Christ was taken to heaven where He “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (v. 3). This was the crowning reward for His years of self-denial and submission.